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hurts. So does exposure to it as a kid.
a national survey of more than 6,000 American families, 50 percent of the men
who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.
this is an old statistic and
we know violence can be perpetrated by both genders, there is a sad truth that remains: In addition to
being abused directly, children are exposed to violence between the caring
adults within their home and it hurts too.
exposure to domestic violence ranges from seeing physical altercations and
attacks between their caregivers in the home; to hearing the screaming and
yelling; to seeing objects thrown or broken; to seeing doors broken and fists
through walls; to smelling flesh as burns are inflicted; to witnessing the
aftermath such as a distraught parent or blood or bruises or physical
destruction of belongings.
effects of such exposure on children can be devastating. Depending on the age of
the child, the effects can vary. Babies can present as inconsolable and have
difficulty sleeping or feeding. Toddlers may have problems with language
development. They may be overly aggressive or overly passive. They may
demonstrate poor attachment to their caregiver. Preschoolers exposed to violence
at home may also be overly aggressive or overly passive. They may avoid age
appropriate exploration and they may show regressive behaviour such as toileting
accidents and problems. They may also begin to show traits of oppositional
behaviour. School age children may presents with learning problems, difficulty
with attention and symptoms of anxiety. They may appear fearful of other adults
or alternately, overly friendly so as to minimize their perceived risk of
upsetting the adult and experiencing wrath. Teenage children can appear anxious
or depressed. They may have significant school problems and attendance problems.
Teenagers may surface with drug and alcohol problems. As they form
relationships, boys are at risk of using harmful control strategies to maintain
the relationship whereas girls may be passive in their relationship thus
tolerating abusive behaviour.
is simply a myth that children only exposed to violence between their
caring adults are not affected by it. The truth is they are affected by it. The
issue is how much and what can be dome about it.
much a child is affected depends upon the age of the child and the type,
severity, frequency and duration of exposure to violence between their caring
regard to what can be done, the first rule is always to provide for the safety
of the child in a manner that eliminates the risk of further exposure. This may
require their caring adult to find safe shelter. In the absence of such, it may require
intervention by child protection authorities to relocate the child to a place of
safety. If this is the case, care should be taken to ensure continuity of
relationship with their non-offending caring adult and continuity with their
school and community. Relocation should avoid dislocation, as the
child would then have to endure multiple losses that can contribute to other
challenges in the treatment process. Once the child and hopefully non-offending
caring adult are secure, the next steps involve facilitating as normal a routine
and structure as possible for the child and then attending to their counselling
needs. Wherever possible the more seamless the transition between these steps
It is every child’s birthright to grow up free from harm and also free from exposure to the harm of others. Such exposure can have devastating effects on the child and can contribute to their experiencing similar problems as adults. Intervening in a way that promotes safety while preserving relationships and attending to their needs will go a long way to reversing harmful effects and improving their future.
 Strauss, Murray A, Gelles, Richard J., and Smith, Christine. 1990. Physical Violence in American Families; Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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